For the first entry in this blog series, I’d like to start with a subject that’s near and dear to my heart. Something which comes up frequently in my lessons is how to harness the amazing potential of internet resources to make trumpet learning faster, easier, and more fun. In many ways this is, or at least should be, a total game-changer for learners today. But as with everything on the internet, this potential comes with some costs, or at least cautionary considerations.
In many ways, I think the unbelievable bonanza of content that YouTube offers has turned the world that I learned in on its head. I distinctly remember as a high schooler, going to the big HMV music store in downtown Toronto to scour their classical section for recordings by renowned trumpet soloist, Maurice André, eagerly anticipating discovering an incredible wealth of new music that would keep my portable CD player busy on the long subway ride back to Scarborough, only to discover that they didn’t have a single one of the recordings my teacher had sent me to look for. I duly went over to the help desk to ask if I was missing something, and they checked their computers before confirming that they didn’t have any of the CDs I was looking for. They checked their backorder catalogs, and, after reconfirming that I was serious, ordered a few of them which I duly trooped back in to pick up months later when they finally arrived. Sure enough, these recordings were great, but it was a long, slow, and clumsy process trying to find things to help me grow.
In retrospect, when I was learning, I had very few sources for learning about the trumpet. Of course, I had my teacher, who was a fantastic musician, and broadly extremely knowledgeable. But I only saw him for one lesson a week, and being insatiably curious about everything to do with the trumpet, there was still a lot that I wondered about which we didn’t cover in lessons, and all I had was CDs, the other kids at school, and whatever I could figure out on my own to try to fill those gaps. There were good things about learning with and from my friends, and always staying hungry for more information rather than just getting everything at once, however, as the the internet opened the doors of possibility while I was in university, I discovered that there were whole other worlds of trumpet playing and teaching that I knew next to nothing about.
Fast forward to today, and YouTube not only has the entire Maurice André musical catalog available freely and immediately, it also has videos of him playing, where I could previously only listen and imagine. Far beyond that, it has instructional masterclasses he gave, and even has masterclasses given by people who studied with him. Really, where the subject of masterclasses is concerned, the proliferation of online video resources with fantastic trumpet content long ago reached the point where my list of things I’d like to watch grows outpaces the time I have available to try to watch and digest it. And, in case that weren’t enough, the rate of new material being added only keeps picking up.
Today, we have the opposite problem to what I experienced when growing up – there is simply way, way too much content available, and it’s hard to know where to start, or who to listen to. Making that worse, I frequently hear from motivated students how they’ve tried doing researching on their own (which I enthusiastically endorse), but what they find is a confusing mishmash of contradictory approaches, instructions, and ideas. Even on the comparatively straight forward subject of breathing – something we’ve all been doing successfully and naturally since we were children – some respected authorities say that you should never take in any more air than you need to play a single phrase, while other authorities say, just as emphatically, that optimal playing is only possible when you always fill up with as much air as you can. Both sides of this argument say that the opposite causes harmful tension, and that only their approach avoids this pitfall, and both sides of this debate have demonstrated track records of success (and failures), which make it very difficult to settle even this most basic of playing questions.
In case that weren’t enough to deal with, in addition to the widespread disagreements between actual experts, there are an uncountable number of people who are probably more skilled at building YouTube channels than playing or teaching the trumpet competing for that same learning bandwidth. These posters offer a lot of advice that looks credible to newcomers, but could often be fairly described as a case of a teacher being “only one lesson ahead of the students.” For an instrument like the trumpet that has a lot of ways to go wrong, this kind of instruction will frequently mean that people are very confidently directed down a maze of what turn out to be frustrating dead-ends.
So, we’re left with the problem of trying to figure out which of the incredible wealth of internet resources can help us, and how to use this confusing mess of often contradictory advice. Anyone who’s ever asked me for my opinion on any trumpet-related subject will not be surprised to hear that I’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to understand the different ideas and approaches, and trying to figure out how to use them for myself and my students, so in future instalments of this series, I’m going to share some of my favourites. I can’t promise that I’ll 100% agree with everything any of them say, but I can promise that they’ll all be highly accomplished players and musicians, and that I think that at least some of what they say is really valuable, and that all of it is worth thinking about, and perhaps trying.